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A Transnational Temperance Discourse? William Wells Brown, Creole Civilization, and Temperate Manners

  • Author(s): Stewart, Carole Lynn
  • et al.
Abstract

In the nineteenth century, temperance movements provided the occasion for a transnational discourse. These conversations possessed an intensity throughout Britain and the United States. In America temperance often became associated with strongly nationalistic Euro-American forms of identity and internal purity. Nonetheless, African American reformers and abolitionists bound themselves to temperance ideals in forming civil societies that would heal persons and provide communal modes of democratic freedom in the aftermath and recovery from chattel slavery. This paper explores the possibilities of temperance as a transnational discourse by considering its meaning in the life and work of the African American author and activist, William Wells Brown. Brown expressed a “creole civilization” that employed the stylistics of the trickster as a unique mode of restraint that revealed a peculiar power of passivity that was able to claim efficacy over one’s life and community. This meaning of temperance diverges from and dovetails with certain European meanings of civilization that were being forged in the nineteenth century. Brown was in conversation with temperance reformers in America, Britain, and Europe. He imagined the possible meaning of temperance in African, Egyptian, Christian, and Islamic civilizations. He speculated upon the possibility of temperance as a defining characteristic of a transnational civilization and culture that would provide spaces for the expression of democratic freedom. Brown reimagined temperance as a form of corporeal restraint that offered a direct and sacred relation to the land, space, people that appeared in between an ethnic nationalist ethos and the European imperialistic civilization.

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